Nine labor unions and consumer groups yesterday asked the West Virginia Legislature to strengthen a rule requiring pharmaceutical companies to report how much they spend on marketing to West Virginia consumers and health care providers.

While the state has made lots of noise about efforts to reduce prescription drugs, little has happened. It's a drug "war" thats never gotten off the ground.

"Consumers should not be forced to pay the cost of direct to consumer advertising or marketing at the pharmacy check-out counter," said Frank Bellinetti, State Director of AARP, which has more than 300,000 members in West Virginia.

He noted that the increasing cost of brand name prescription drugs continue to out-pace inflation, according to a recent report by the Public Policy Institute, which is being made available to legislators.

Officials from the AFL-CIO, West Virginia Education Association (WVEA), West Virginia Council of Churches, West Virginia Communication Workers of America, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 77, West Virginia Association of Retired School Employees (WVARSE), United Steel Workers District 8 and West Virginians for Affordable Health Care supported yesterday's event.

"We want the legislature to know that West Virginia consumers are serious about lowering the cost of prescription drugs," said Perry Bryant, Executive Director of West Virginians for Affordable Healthcare, a citizen funded, public interest group working on systemic health care reform issues.

Officials from all nine organizations signed a joint letter to every legislator, Governor Joe Manchin and Pharmaceutical Advocate Shana Phares. That letter was to be delivered yesterday.

The rule sent to the legislature from the Pharmaceutical Cost Management Council did not go far enough to protect consumers and lower the cost of brand name prescription drugs, the groups contend.

They are asking lawmakers to strengthen the rule before making it law.

The goal in creating the Council was to establish an agency that will negotiate lower drug costs for West Virginia consumers.

  In order to begin the negotiation process, the Pharmaceutical Advocate must collect information on the costs drug manufacturers incur for advertising and marketing in West Virginia.

The groups believe that consumers should not have to pay the cost of direct to consumer advertising or marketing, including pharmaceutical drug detailing.  Drug manufacturers would not be required to report detailing costs as the rule is currently written.

"These activities benefit pharmaceutical companies, but work against the best interest of consumers," said Kenny Purdue, President of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, a group of more than 420 affiliated unions joined together for the common cause of fairness for all workers.

  Randy Moore of the United Steelworkers District 8 said that the organizations are asking the legislature to "adopt a reporting requirement that will provide the Pharmaceutical Advocate and the PCMC the tools necessary to negotiate a significant discount on prescription drugs for state programs, West Virginia's families and businesses."

The union represents more than 14,000 workers in the state and is officially known as the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union.

The groups recommend that the Legislature restore the initial reporting date to May 15, 2007. The Legislative Rule-Making and Review Committee had changed the date to July 1, 2008, the date the PCMC "sunsets," or ceases to exist under current law.

"Drug claims are increasing at an alarming rate.  The PEIA medical claims for active employees increased by 2 percent last year, while drug claims increased by more than 8 percent, four times that of medical claims," said Ed Hartman, Executive Director, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 77.

It is estimated that PEIA will pay $195.5 million for prescription drugs for state workers in 2007, increasing to $319.9 million by 2011.

"Delaying the reports from the drug manufacturers another year delays the negotiating process and continues to increase costs to state government, families and businesses," said Charles Delauder, President of the West Virginia Education Association. The group represents more 17,000 teachers, school service professionals and higher education employees in West Virginia.

The groups also asked lawmakers to require each drug manufacturer to report on the number of detailers working in West Virginia, the minimum qualifications for hire, and the aggregate expenditures for detailing activities. "Detailing" refers to direct-to-physician marketing by pharmaceutical representatives.

"To exclude this cost skews the numbers by underreporting this significant cost that is passed on to the consumer," said Bill Milam, Executive Director of the West Virginia Association of Retired School Employees, with about 8,000 members statewide.

The groups want the law to require each drug manufacturer to report the total amount spent on gifts, grants or payments to West Virginia prescribers, typically physicians. 

They also want any drug manufacturer who sends more than $10,000 in a year to West Virginia prescribers to be required to report what activities where paid as gifts, grants or payments.  They say the rule as currently proposed would not be clear enough.

"Did the drug manufacturer spend money on pens, golfing trips or seminars?  There may be some forms of gifts, grants or payments to prescribers that are legitimate," said Elaine Harris of the Communication Workers of America.

"The current reporting requirement does not give the Pharmaceutical Advocate sufficient information to make that determination."

The groups said the changes are necessary to provide the Pharmaceutical Advocate the information necessary to negotiate a fair and reasonable price for prescription drugs.

  "The cost of prescription drugs continues to erode family incomes, damage our state budget and adversely affect our businesses, particularly small businesses that are struggling to provide health insurance to their employees," said Dennis Sparks, Executive Director of the West Virginia Council of Churches.

The West Virginia Council of Churches currently includes 14 denominations in the state, whose membership rolls approach 600,000.